It’s been over a year since I last set foot in a place of worship. Or, as they’re also known, movie theaters.
Like many others, I’m counting down the days till I can return to my beloved local cinema, bury myself in my favorite aisle seat, feel that frisson of expectation as the lights dim – and turn around a minute later to hiss “SSSSHH!!” at the nudnik who’s still on their phone explaining why, no Mom, this really isn’t a good time to talk.
Ah, cinema, how I’ve missed ye. Was it really 381 long days ago that I last handed over a ticket to a disinterested usher and sat through two hours of Elisabeth Moss being terrorized by an invisible assailant? (If only there were some kind of metaphor I could draw from this.)
And is it really 478 days since I sat contentedly with my kids, lapping up every second of Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” – perhaps the last cinema outing I enjoyed prior to the words “respiratory droplets” entering my life/lungs and changing them forever?
I’ve still seen a lot of movies over the past year. But every time I’ve seen a great one – “The Outpost,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Mank,” “Nomadland,” “Sound of Metal” – I’ve always yearned to see it on a big screen, annoying audiences and all.
Conversely, when I’ve seen a film that’s disappointed me or left me somewhat underwhelmed – “Tenet,” “Greyhound,” “The King of Staten Island,” “Wonder Woman 1984” – I’ve wondered if I might have enjoyed it just a little more on the big screen in a communal experience with others.
Because unless you’ve built an IMAX cinema in your home (you can put your hand down, Mr. Spielberg), there’s still nothing that can compare to the magic buzz of that big-screen experience – though, yes, the only thing that could have made me enjoy Denzel Washington’s serial-killer thriller “The Little Things” would have been a chloroform-soaked cloth over my face two minutes in.
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Most cinemas in Israel are still closed, but I live in hope that it won’t be long before those green passports take us back to those silver screens – even if part of me is secretly hoping wildlife has reclaimed these spaces during lockdown too, and that a group of coyotes is currently in the back row of my local multiplex, eating stale popcorn and wondering if there’s ever going to be a decent adaptation of “Dr. Dolittle.”
Until that happy day arrives (for us and the coyotes), the small screen is still our only movie outlet – and films don’t come much bigger on it than “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” which is now available on Hot.
Be warned, however, that this is a movie-viewing experience so arduous, you’re advised to set up a base camp prior to attempting it.
Full disclosure: I place “Comic-book adaptations” just above “Films starring Mel Gibson” and “Multi-Razzie nominees” in my list of favorite genres (those aren’t mutually exclusive), so I’m not in any position to tell you whether this new, super-expanded version of the DC Comics saga is actually worth watching. Besides, I recently wrote a positive review for a Netflix show that for a while had a 14-percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so my critical faculties have clearly long since deserted me.
I staggered through this particular “Justice League” in two sittings, but since I barely remember the disposable original from 2017 (the one completed by Joss Whedon after Snyder fell out with Warner Bros. and then endured a family tragedy), my take on the Snyder cut is probably about as meaningful as Donald Trump’s critique of a Gloria Steinem book.
What I will say, though, is that I will never again accuse millennials or zoomers of suffering short attention spans if they can sit through the “Snyder Cut” – which is absolutely the wrong term for it, since “cut” implies some form of excision.
What we have instead is a film that’s doubled in length to 242 minutes, yet still can’t find a way to feature Elongated Man, who is surely the best-named DC Comics character ever – and definitely way better than the film’s uber-villain, Darkseid. Really? What, was Badmotherthucker not available?
While Martin Scorsese may like comic-book movies even less than I do, even he must surely have a grudging respect for a director who seemingly has more lobbyists than the NRA and AIPAC combined. Snyder activists bought billboard space at Time Square, hired planes to fly over Warner Bros.’ studio – the trappings of power granted to the King of Comic-Con.
But all of this devotion leaves me a little depressed, to be honest: “Justice for the ‘Justice League’ 1” doesn’t really have the same ring as “Justice for the Central Park 5,” after all.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people – or perhaps only seven – have spent countless hours engaged in the kind of relentless activism normally only associated with Stacey Abrams. And for what?
So that we get the backstories of the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). So we get to see more blood and violence, like when Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) confronts a bunch of terrorists in London. So that we get to see even more Amazons die when Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) arrives on Themyscira. So that we get to see the full “vision” of a filmmaker whose movies could probably be told in half the time if he didn’t insist on quite so much slo-mo.
Look, Snyder is clearly a true auteur (the scene introducing The Flash is a thing of beauty). But let’s admit that there are more pressing concerns in the world than fighting for film “cuts” to be released – you know, like making sure he never subjects us to his long-planned adaptation of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” Because if that happens, even Batman and Wonder Woman won’t be able to save us.
I’d like to report that Nicholas Jarecki’s “Crisis,” about the opioid epidemic that has roiled America, is a more profound experience. But I found this a curiously misguided affair, hamstrung by the casting of Armie Hammer in the lead role. Short of featuring a cameo appearance by Woody Allen, Hammer – who was accused of rape the day after I watched his latest movie – is probably the last person people want to see on any sized screen right now.
He’s also the wrong actor for the role of Jake Kelly, an undercover law-enforcement officer embedded with drug runners north of the border in Montreal. Trust me, it’s a close call who’ll say “Eh” more times here – you or the Canadian characters.
I sat down to watch the film with one of my kids, having sold it to her as a drama about the opioid crisis. A couple of minutes in, she turned to me and said, somewhat incredulously, “Hang on, is this a thriller?” Bizarrely, yes it is.
You would hope that any film about such a wide-scale tragedy, one that has killed thousands of “ordinary” Americans, would center on those horrors. Or at least highlight how this is a unique drug problem where the supplier is more likely to be your own doctor than a pusher, or a physician who’s handing out pills like candy to anyone with the cash for a prescription.
Instead, we get a generic drug-smuggling story involving a “French Connection”-esque drug lord known only as Mother (Guy Nadon); a misguided storyline involving a former addict (Evangeline Lilly) whose actions make those of her character in “Lost” seem positively plausible; and a third plotline that nods to the Sackler family at the heart of the OxyContin scandal, but settles for being a clichéd story about a professor (Gary Oldman at his most shouty) uncovering a problem with a “non-addictive painkiller” about to come on the market.
With its trio of stories, two of which are improbably interlinked, “Crisis” is very much trying to do for painkillers what Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” did for the U.S. narcotics trade 20-odd years ago. But this is a frustratingly inferior film: “Traffic” lite, if you will.
“Money Heist” was something of a game-changer for Netflix. The success of the addictive Spanish thriller turned “Global Television” into a genre and opened the doors for numerous other international series, from Brazil’s “3%” to Israel’s “Fauda.”
Spain probably vies with Brazil and Turkey for having the most foreign-language shows on Netflix. And the latest, “Sky Rojo,” comes from “Money Heist” creator Álex Pina and that show’s co-writer Esther Martínez Lobato.
Sadly, “Sky Rojo” has more in common with another trashy Spanish thriller, “Toy Boy,” than “Money Heist.” While “Toy Boy” was about a male stripper trying to clear his name after being jailed for murder, “Sky Rojo” is about three women working in prostitution – Coral (Spanish actress Verónica Sánchez), Gina (Cuban-Mexican actress Yany Prado) and Wendy (Argentinian actress Lali Espósito) – forced to go on the run after attacking their boss at the neon-bejeweled brothel where they all work.
The pimp’s henchmen, two brothers called Christian and Moisés, set off in pursuit of the trio on the dusty island of Tenerife. But while the locales may be sultry, this show left me completely cold.
Has any decent film or TV series ever been set in a brothel or strip club, because I’m struggling to think of any. I found “Sky Rojo” rather an unpleasant watch, its attempts to paint our three protagonists as feisty heroines repeatedly undone by its scenes of casual violence against women.
With dialogue like “Red thongs are your work tools, sweetheart” and “God gave whores time off when he gave you all periods,” this is a pretty tawdry, overwrought affair, despite the best efforts of the three game actresses. I gave up after four episodes, and will instead pin my Pina hopes on the fifth and concluding season of “Money Heist” later this year.
The problem with beloved television shows is that they leave a little void in your life when they end. A great example of that is the French comedy “Call My Agent!,” whose final season recent concluded on Netflix.
Much like the Boeing 737 Max, comedy is a notoriously bad traveler. However, those looking for more winning Gallic humor should seek out “Parlement,” which is set in the bureaucratic world of the European Union but is far funnier than that sounds. Sure, it lacks the biting wit of “Agent!,” but it’s definitely the funniest thing to come out of Brussels since Nigel Farage.
In some ways, setting a comedy in the European Parliament is both an obvious and obtuse choice: It’s been the source of much humor and ridicule over its almost 70-year history, but how many good jokes can you actually wring out of arcane governmental protocol, culture clashes and Brexit?
Rather a lot, it turns out, in this charming sitcom that plays like a more civil, less frenetic version of those two genius Armando Iannucci comedies “Veep” and “The Thick of It.”
“The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they’ll sleep at night,” a Bismarck-quoting parliamentary administrator informs our naïve hero, Samy (Xavier Lacaille), soon after he takes up the thankless task of aiding lackadaisical French MEP Michel (Philippe Duquesne) in Brussels (the show is set in the fall of 2018, so post-Brexit vote but pre-U.K. withdrawal).
Thrown into the world of EU regulations, amendments and internecine feuds, Samy is to all intents and purposes the wide-eyed viewer, trying to navigate his way through a sea of red tape and trying to spot the difference between a lobbyist and a political adviser.
Created by Noé Debré, the laughs in “Parlement” come at the expense of Brexit-supporting British MEPs; the parliament’s inherent contradictions, including why the mild-sounding “Democrats of Sweden” are actually a bunch of Nazis; and, of course, plenty of jokes at the expense of the Germans. It definitely gets my vote.
“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is out now on Hot VOD Cinema, “Crisis” is available to buy on Apple TV, “Sky Rojo” is out now on Netflix and “Parlement” is available on Topic.